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Research and innovation

Gender equality in research and innovation

Achieving gender equality in research, how it relates to the European Research Area, networks and news.

The Commission's gender equality strategy

The European Commission is committed to promoting gender equality in research and innovation.

It is part of the European Commission Gender Equality Strategy for 2020-2025, which sets out the Commission’s broader commitment to equality across all EU policies.

In addition, the EU has a well-established regulatory framework on gender equality, including binding directives, which apply widely across the labour market including the research sector.

Because of the peculiarities of the research sector, specific action is needed to overcome persisting gender gaps. Many structural barriers to gender equality in research and innovation persist.

The European Commission addresses these barriers through

Gender equality in Horizon Europe

With Horizon Europe, the Commission reaffirms its commitment to gender equality in research and innovation.

The legal base sets gender equality as a crosscutting priority and introduces strengthened provisions. 

There are 3 main levels at which gender equality is considered in Horizon Europe

  1. having a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) in place becomes an eligibility criterion for certain categories of legal entities from EU countries and associated countries
  2. the integration of the gender dimension into research and innovation content is a requirement by default, an award criterion evaluated under the excellence criterion, unless the topic description explicitly specifies otherwise
  3. increasing gender balance throughout the programme is another objective, with a target of 50% women in Horizon Europe related boards, expert groups and evaluation committees, and gender balance among research teams set as a ranking criterion for proposals with the same score

Furthermore, specific funding will be dedicated to

The goal is to improve the European research and innovation system, create gender-equal working environments where all talents can thrive and better integrate the gender dimension in projects to improve research quality as well as the relevance to society of the knowledge, technologies and innovations produced.

The Factsheet on Gender Equality: a strengthened commitment in Horizon Europe summarises the key new provisions and requirements, with a particular focus on the new Gender Equality Plan (GEP) eligibility criterion.

Gender Equality Plans as an eligibility criterion in Horizon Europe

As detailed in the last part of the factsheet Gender Equality: a strengthened commitment in Horizon Europe, for calls with deadlines in 2022 and onwards, having a Gender Equality Plan (GEP) will be an eligibility criterion for all public bodies, higher education institutions and research organisations from EU Member States and associated countries wishing to participate in Horizon Europe.

As also recalled in the General Annexes to Horizon Europe 2021-2022 work programme, to comply with the eligibility criterion, a GEP must meet 4 mandatory process-related requirements or ‘building blocks’.

Mandatory requirements for a GEP

  1. Be a public document: The GEP should be a formal document signed by the top management, and disseminated within the institution. It should demonstrate a commitment to gender equality, set clear goals and detailed actions and measures to achieve them
  2. Have dedicated resources: Resources for the design, implementation, and monitoring of GEPs may include funding for specific positions such as Equality Officers or Gender Equality Teams as well as earmarked working time for academic, management and administrative staff
  3. Include arrangements for data collection and monitoring: GEPs must be evidence-based and founded on sex or gender-disaggregated baseline data collected across all staff categories. This data should inform the GEP’s objectives and targets, indicators, and ongoing evaluation of progress
  4. Be supported by training and capacity-building: Actions may include developing gender competence and tackling unconscious gender bias among staff, leaders and decision-makers, establishing working groups dedicated to specific topics, and raising awareness through workshops and communication activities

In addition to these mandatory process-related requirements, the following 5 thematic areas are recommended for content.

  • work-life balance and organisational culture
  • gender balance in leadership and decision-making
  • gender equality in recruitment and career progression
  • integration of the gender dimension into research and teaching content
  • measures against gender-based violence including sexual harassment

When in the process is a GEP required?

At first proposal submission stage, a self-declaration is requested through a dedicated questionnaire.

An organisation may not yet have a GEP at proposal submission stage, but it must have a GEP in place at the time of the Grant Agreement signature.

The Model Grant Agreement commits beneficiaries to taking all measures to promote equal opportunities between men and women in the implementation of the action and, where applicable, in line with their GEP.

Guidance document on GEPs

A detailed Guidance document has been developed to support organisations to meet the Horizon Europe GEP eligibility criterion. This Guidance presents each mandatory ‘building block’ and recommended thematic area, explains what these requirements mean in practice when developing and implementing a GEP or reviewing the equivalence of existing plans or policies, and provides concrete practical examples, building on existing materials, good practices and various resources that support gender equality in research and innovation at national and institutional levels.

Trainings on GEPs

The Commission is also offering a series of online trainings on Gender Equality Plans targeting EU Member States and Associated Countries in which there is larger amount of organisations concerned by the Horizon Europe eligibility criterion that do not yet have in place a GEP.

Trainings have already been delivered to organisations established in Bulgaria (28 September 2021), Greece (9 November), Hungary (23 November), Croatia (8 December), Italy (28 January 2022), Bosnia and Herzegovina (23 February), Romania (25 March), Poland (28 April) and the three Baltic countries (25 May).

Public bodies, research organisations and higher education establishments from Cyprus are invited to register their interest for a free GEP training taking place on 23 June by completing this Expression of Interest for Gender Equality Plans (GEPs) training by 14 June.

Priority will be given to organisations with little or no experience in developing and implementing a GEP.

Webinar on the GEP eligibility criterion

DG Research and Innovation is also organising on Thursday 23 June, from 14:30 to 16:00 a webinar more particularly aimed towards Legal Entity Appointed Representatives (LEARs) but of relevance for all future applicants to Horizon Europe.

Participants will follow the webinar via Youtube streaming. A Q&A session will be run via Slido. Participation is open to anyone interested and no registration is required. Agenda, speakers and connection details are available on the event webpage.

Gender equality plans: Frequently asked questions

FAQ on the GEP eligibility criterion under Horizon Europe

Horizon Europe guidance on gender equality plans

Video: Gender Equality Plans - an Eligibility Criterion for Horizon Europe (extended version / short version)


Gender equality in the European Research Area (ERA)

Gender equality in research and innovation is a priority of the European Research Area (ERA).

Already under the ERA Communication 2012 framework, the European Commission has set 3 objectives to work with EU countries and foster an institutional change

  • gender equality in scientific careers
  • gender balance in decision making
  • integration of the gender dimension into the content of research and innovation

Implementation and progress report

Conclusions on advancing Gender Equality in the European Research Area called for cultural and institutional changes to address gender imbalances in research institutions and in decision-making bodies.

EU countries were asked to develop national action plans for gender equality, which had very positive impacts in many research organisations and was a catalyst for transformation.

Research performing and funding organisations were encouraged to implement institutional changes, in particular through gender equality plans (GEP).

The Commission, through Horizon 2020, provided funds to research organisations for the implementation of GEPs.

Yet, the ERA Progress report and She Figures highlight that implementation across the EU is uneven, and structural barriers to gender equality in research and innovation organisations persist.

  • women occupy only 24% of top academic positions
  • women are still under-represented in the STEM fields
  • women represent less than 10% of patent holders

There is also a need to address gender-based violence, inclusiveness issues with intersecting social categories (e.g. ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability), perform intersectional research, and establish a link with the entrepreneurship and innovation sectors.

The recent communication on the European Research Area includes a common action between the EU, EU countries and countries associated with Horizon 2020, to strengthen gender equality provisions. Action 12 asks the EU and EU countries to develop concrete plans to promote gender equality, diversity, and inclusiveness in science, research, and innovation.

In concert with the Skills Agenda, the Communication on the European Education Area and the new Digital Education Action Plan, the ERA will strengthen the focus on increasing participation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Gender mainstreaming through integration of the gender dimension in research and innovation content

Horizon 2020 was the first framework programme to set gender as a cross-cutting issue, with one of the underpinning objectives being to integrate the gender dimension into research and innovation content.

The policy report produced by the EU funded H2020 expert group on Gendered Innovations provides researchers and innovators with methodological tools for sex, gender and intersectional analysis.

It also presents concrete case studies, showcasing projects funded under Horizon 2020 and addressing key research and innovation areas for Horizon Europe clusters, missions and partnerships.

These include areas such as health, artificial intelligence and robotics, energy, transport, marine science and climate change, urban planning, agriculture, fair taxation and venture funding, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

To promote diversity in R&I and open its gender policy to intersections with other social characteristics, such as ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation, the European Commission supports the development of inclusive gender equality plans (GEPs) and policies, in line with the 2020 Communication on the new European Research Area (ERA) and ERA Policy Agenda 2022-2024. As part of these ongoing efforts, the factsheet present tips and good practices for R&I stakeholders to support the inclusion and equal opportunity of students, researchers and staff from diverse and marginalised backgrounds in European R&I systems.

The full study with a review on emerging practices for inclusive gender equality across Member States and Associated Countries will become available later in June.

Factsheet: Towards inclusive gender equality in research and innovation

She Figures report

The She Figures 2021 full report is now available.

The report, divided in 6 chapters, follows the chronological journey of women, from obtaining a doctoral degree to participating in the labour market and acquiring decision-making roles, while exploring differences in women and men's working conditions and research and innovation output.

Watch the video of Commissioner Gabriel summarising the main outcomes

She Figures 2021 data show that, on average, at Bachelor’s and Master’s levels, women outnumber men as students (54%) and graduates (59%), and there is almost gender balance at Doctoral level (48%). However, disparities between study fields persist. For example, women still represent less than a quarter of Doctoral graduates in the ICT field (22%), while they represent more than 50% in the fields of health & welfare and education (60% and 67%, respectively). Nevertheless, some positive trend can be observed, such as an increase in the proportion of women holding the highest academic positions (26.2%) compared to the last edition (24.1%).

Novelties of the 2021 edition:

  • Seven policy briefs are produced for themes in which progress towards gender equality is needed (e.g., tackling gender imbalance in research leadership, or for which comparable data is lacking, such as the impact of COVID-19 on researchers, alongside 27 country fiches that are examining the progress of each country through presenting data for key indicators, comparing their performance to the average EU value, and summarising their performance in thematic areas.
  • Moreover, the report extends its data collection to G-20 countries where data are available, going beyond the EU-27 Member States, the UK and Associated Countries and it includes several new indicators.
  • The updated ‘She Figures Handbook’ provides the latest methodological guidance on data collection and calculation of indicators.

Released every 3 years since 2003, the report constitutes a key evidence base for policies in this area. It is recommended reading for policy makers, researchers and anyone with a general interest in these issues. Statistical correspondents from EU-27 Member States and Associated Countries contribute to the data collection.

You can also see:

See also: She Figures 2018.

Gender equality and coronavirus

There has been increasing scientific attention dedicated to the different impacts on women and men due to the pandemic, highlighted in this article in The Lancet, and also documented by the European Institute for Gender Equality

Issues include 

  • clinical sex and gender differences in responses to the virus
  • mortality rates
  • clinical trials and side effects to different drugs and vaccines
  • impact on domestic and gender-based violence
  • impact on reproductive health and rights
  • impact on the healthcare and caregiving professions, which are occupied by women at 76%
  • work-life balance and economic equality.

Initiatives and projects related to gender equality and coronavirus

Expert Group on the COVID-19 impact on gender equality in Research and Innovation

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing number of studies are showing the negative impact that the crisis and the socio-economic lockdown have had on women researchers’ careers and productivity. This risks setting back the progress that has been made on gender equality in the European Research Area (ERA) in the past years and widening existing gender gaps in research careers and decision-making positions. Still little is known on the long-term impact of the pandemic and its gendered consequences in areas, such as career progress, publications, precarious working conditions, as well as recognition and visibility of women researchers’ achievements. The new Commission Expert Group on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender equality in research and innovation will investigate this phenomenon and develop policy recommendations to mitigate any negative consequences and strengthen gender equality in R&I in the post-Covid recovery. Their report will be available at the beginning of 2023.  

Case study on sex and gender impact of the pandemic 

Different measures are underway to address these sex and gender aspects of the crisis, including a case study on the sex and gender impact of the COVID-19 pandemic developed by the European Commission’s Expert Group on Gendered Innovations

It builds on the latest scientific literature, as well as on Horizon 2020 projects, to document issues such as sex differences in immune responses, dosing and sex-specific side effects of vaccines and therapeutics, gender-specific risk factors, gender-sensitive prevention campaigns and gender-specific socioeconomic burden of public safety measures.

Factsheet based on this case study


Networking – at trans-national level, and at institutional level among practitioners, with professional associations, platforms of women scientists, and other networks – also plays a key role. The Commission has been funding several important initiatives which aim to support networking.

GENDER-NET Plus is the first European Research Area Network (ERA-NET) Cofund scheme to be dedicated to the promotion of gender equality in research and innovation. It gathers 16 national funding organisations coming from 13 countries (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Canada) committed to strengthening transnational collaborations and joint funding towards a common goal: advancing gender equality in research institutions and the integration of the gender dimension into research and innovation contents and programmes.

GENDERACTION  is a network of representatives from national authorities and national gender and science centres which mobilises national expertise across EU countries with the aim to create an innovative policy community to implement the gender equality priority in the European Research Area.

ACT is developing an international network of Communities of Practice (CoPs) as agents to develop gender equality actions in research organisations across Europe. It is building on the GenPORT internet portal – created through FP7 – to transform this resource centre and online community of practitioners on gender equality and excellence in science, technology or innovation, into a central CoP gender equality knowledge- and practice-sharing hub (GenPORT+).

The Standing Working Group on Gender in Research and Innovation under the European Research Area and Innovation Committee (ERAC SWG GRI) is a policy advisory committee that advises the Council of the EU, the European Commission and EU members on policies and initiatives related to gender equality in research and innovation. This group is the successor to the Helsinki Group on Gender Equality in Research and Innovation established by the Commission in 1999.